These days, it has become increasingly harder to find places of solitude. Places where you experience true serenity. For those of us who have learned to hear the call of the wild, we have the innate ability to find these places where others would not. I found myself looking for that serenity last year. During a summer camp trip I had a simple goal. A goal to find peace and tackle one of my favorite fish on the fly.
The smallmouth bass is a simple and elegant fish. A favorite of sportsmen, its fighting spirit and beautiful colors are rivaled by few other species. I had caught smallmouth on the fly, but I had committed what some would consider sacrilege. I had used live bait to catch smallmouth on a fly rod. I wasn’t concerned with the tradition of the fly, but the feeling of the fight. On this trip, I was determined to put the past behind me. I snuck away from the camp and headed to the river.
In all honesty, I had no idea what I was doing. I had a fly that I had tied, but it was new to me. I hadn’t caught a single fish on this fly. Rigging up, I did my best to rely on past knowledge. I knew where the fish used to be. I had caught twenty-five fish in this same stretch of river, some over seventeen inches. I knew that I could get the fly to the fish, high banks and trees lead to conducive casting. I knew what smallmouth ate. My fly was patterned after a crawfish, a brown cone head Wooly Bugger without a marabou tail. What I did not know, was how to fish this fly. I did not know how to present to these fish.
Above all the uncertainty I had confidence. I was prepared to stand in that river for the foreseeable future. The sun was headed down, but the water felt good. It felt right. As in all things new , I understood that it would take time. After the first half hour, the doubt began to set in. Not the doubt of the fish being there, but the doubt in my technique. I was doing exactly what I thought was best. I was casting upstream at a forty five degree angle, and letting the fly dead drift down stream to a soft swing on the tail end. I thought I had a surefire method. This was the exact method that I was using with a live minnow. After some thought, I wasn’t throwing a minnow pattern. I was throwing a crayfish, and crayfish don’t float through the water. They are spastic swimmers, jerks and erratic motion the name of the game. So I changed tactics. I cast upstream, almost parallel to the current, and I began stripping the fly. Fast. Hard. Like a fleeing crayfish. The water was less than two feet deep. The current was quick. The first cast, about the 3rd strip, my line hit a brick wall. A wall that moved. Serenity. A wave of peace washed over me. In less than an hour, my goal was met. While fighting a fish in strong current, I was more relaxed than a deep sleep. I soon landed the first smallmouth on the fly. I waded back to shore, sandpaper like teeth in my thumb with a soft vise grip. At the shore line, the camera came out. The fish backlit by a flowing river. The fly highlighted in the corner of the mouth and my fiberglass fly rod translucent in the sunset. It was picture perfect, and yet no photo will ever come close enough.
My feet mindlessly carried me back into the streams center. The smile on my face sure not to fade. In my mind, at that moment, I could have cast the rest of the night and been content with one fish. To my joy, within five minutes I had fish number two on the rod, and fish number three followed soon after. Every fish after the first was a bonus, and the fights became more surreal. I found myself focused on the subtle headshakes of the bass, the long runs of desperation as the fish fought to escape.
The final fish of the day was a surprise. It wasn’t a smallmouth bass. It wasn’t a spotted or largemouth either. It was something I had never caught. It was later identified by a good friend as a creek chub. It wasn’t expected, but it was certainly appreciated. I went to my hammock that night quite happy. I had not only caught a smallmouth bass on a fly rod, but I had caught 3 smallmouth bass on a fly that I had hand-tied. Tomorrow held more fish, I had caught them before. I knew the fallen tree like the back of my hand. In fact, I had hung a hammock in that fallen tree over the river. Sleep came easy, and I could only hope that the fish were as hungry as I was, chasing serenity.